After two-ish years of intending to set up a book club… I am actually setting up a book club. It will take place at Hyde Park Book Club (!) once a month, starting on Thursday 16th June, from 6.30pm.
It will focus primarily on literary fiction by northern writers who are alive. By northern, I mean writers who live in, are from, or have significant connections to the north. By alive, I mean not dead. As a writer who is based in the north, writing literary fiction and not dead myself, I feel it is important to support others in a similar position. I will do my best to conduct a short interview with each writer alongside each book club (another benefit of them being alive!) Read more about my reasons for setting up the book club at The State of the Arts.
The first book club will take place on Thursday 16th June from 6.30pm, and the first book will be the brilliant debut short story collection Treats by Manchester-based writer, Lara Williams. Lara’s hilarious, acerbic and razor sharp stories chart the highs, lows and meandering in-betweens of twenty-something life in the twenty first century. I devoured the collection within a few days; every word felt raw, relevant and urgent. It’s sad and it’s strange and it’s so, so funny.
What really struck me about the collection was the importance of detail – not only in how it brings your writing to life, but how the narrative often hinges on the protagonist’s discovery of something seemingly small. Was this intentional or did it emerge naturally?
I was definitely interested in the nuance of detail in self-actualisation in writing the stories; small moments we don’t really articulate, the seemingly inconsequential thoughts we return to, the throwaway things people say to us that affect us more than was perhaps intended. I was never really interested in writing grandiose plots or complicated narratives. I wanted to write characters and the cultural ephemera and transient moments that inform that.
2. Do you have a favourite story in the collection and if so, which story and why?
Hmmm. I quite like Penguins and Sundaes At The Tipping Yard as towards the end of writing the collection I had a bad spell of depression and was sure I’d never be able to write anything again ever, but started those two amidst it and wrote them very slowly, and somehow didn’t hate them.
3. Many of the stories concern young women who find it hard to authentically find their place in the world, to take up space and be OK with that – yet it never takes itself too seriously. Did you feel differently about yourself and your place in the world by the time you’d finished writing it?
I was certainly thinking about women negotiating space, feeling entitled to space and what is considered “women’s space”. I really love domestic fiction and exploring selfhood within that space. I do think I feel a little differently, though whether that is writing the collection or turning thirty and feeling a little more comfortable in my own skin, I’m not sure.
4. Have you been surprised by any of the reader reactions to the book since publication?
I’ve peculiarly enjoyed reading some criticism of the collection. In writing the collection my greatest hope was that readers would see it as an objectively good piece of writing, but it’s strange to hear people say that they’ve found it moving or relatable. It’s weird and wonderful to know it could mean something to someone.
5. Which writers most influenced this collection?
I love a lot of recent(ish) female short fiction writers; people like Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley, Ann Beattie, Mary Gaitskil, Miranda July. And latterly, I found reading a bit more David Foster Wallace made me think in a different way about writing.
Treats (£8.99) is available in paperback from Freight Books.